Guerrilla Poetry Project | Strangers Speaking
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Image: Paul Adkins
Strangers Speaking is a #guerrillapoetryproject , in which I intended to provide the sense of a stranger listening. It was written for those who feel lonely in a crowd: the loneliness that happens when experiences cannot be shared or spoken entirely. It is hoped that anyone who feels this and engaged with the project, felt understood.
Strangely, I heard a stranger say, I am with you.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Strangers Speaking germinated as a project last November in a Poetry School workshop with Liz Berry, who asked us to create guerrilla poetry (poetry published in unexpected and unconventional ways).
Fallen leaves and broken branches were used instead of paper to write short phrases in white ink. Each leaf began with 'And Me—', designed to evoke the presence of a stranger, who is speaking a language in common. Fifteen leaves were then tied with string to bare trees, at intervals along hillside paths local to me, popular with walkers. Three pairs of leaves were included in the trail, which carried the refrain: 'We lose leaves believing in spring...we leaf again, trusting in autumn.' Four broken branches were placed on banks along the way.
The trail of words was created to be experienced differently by walkers, depending on which paths were chosen. Some might have noticed several phrases - others might have seen fewer, but those phrases repeated.
The project began on 29th November 2020. The following day I walked the paths again and found three leaves had strings removed.
Instead they were punctured by twigs, acting as hooks for them to hang by. Was someone short of string, or had someone a need to replace shoelaces?
A few leaves were missing altogether. There was no sign that they had been destroyed and thrown in the bracken, so I presumed the words had resonated with walkers who chose to keep them.
Two of the four branches disappeared on the first day from their resting place behind a seat. Another branch left soon after. I regularly changed the position of the remaining branch until one day it too was gone.
Every so often as days passed another leaf would go, while others stayed. Winter weather changed them. Those hanging in more exposed positions gradually faded or lost their words completely. Just one leaf remained as new and disappeared one day in the middle of February.
During December one pair of leaves was removed from the original site ( a tree stump) and tied to the left arm of a nearby bench. On Christmas Day they were still fixed to the bench, but soon after they were gone. For reasons unknown, they returned in February – one leaf broken, the other intact, tied this time to the right arm of the bench. When I looked the day after their reappearance, they had vanished again…
On the last day of February just two of the eighteen original leaves remained. One was reduced to a fragment. The other was a ghost of its former self. On the first day of March, I found string hanging like a noose from the branch and the ghost leaf lying on the path. I picked it up, wedged it in a small groove in a tree trunk, then instantly regretted it. A few days later it was no longer present, the wind must have carried it away, out of earshot.
After three months the project has come to a natural end. I do not know if my intentions came to fruition, but clearly Strangers Speaking stirred reactions in some who encountered the leaves on their walks. As leaves and branches disappeared, I was intrigued to know where and why they were going. However, knowing is immaterial. It seems to me that the words did at least reach strangers who engaged with the language and heard the stranger.
Links for Margaret Adkins Writing:
Margaret Adkins started writing when her nursing and midwifery career came to an end in 2015. She become a full-time student at the University of Worcester. She gained a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing & English Literature and an MRes in Theatre & Performance. Winner of the inaugural University of Worcester V. Press Prize, her debut poetry pamphlet Mingled Space is published by V. Press (2019).